Two men (sic) walk into a …(3a-3b)

We have entered “Talmud-land” – a place in time rather than space. And yet while it is a place in time there are no timekeepers, no clocks. Curious!

It’s hard to imagine a time before CLOCKS; hard to imagine getting up in the middle of the night and just not knowing how much time had elapsed and how much time remained to sleep.  But that’s where we are right now as the rabbis continue to address the question posed in the Mishnah: “From when may we fulfill the obligation to recite the Sh’ma in the evenings?”

They discuss how the night is divided up into “watches” (because presumably this will help us answer our question by breaking up such a long period of time into components and give us additional options to answer our question of “when”) but cannot agree on whether there are three of these or four.  In any case, those who argue that there are three tell us about the sounds of these watches: during the first a donkey brays, during the second a dog howls, and during the third an infant nurses.  So each part of night has a different sound. Nonetheless we also read that throughout them all Hashem “roars like a lion”.  How interesting that they are measuring time with sound

In any case today’s daf, despite its twists and turns,  wants to keep us clearly on the road of time. Spaces are dangerous; they contain ruins and we are cautioned not to enter into a ruin (to pray) lest one arouses suspicion (a long story!), the structure collapses, or one is set upon by demons.  For a people living in Diaspora, spaces such as ruins are reminders of loss and they arouse uncertainty and anxiety – best to be avoided. Pray on the road! Pray the short version! Just don’t go into a ruin where in addition to the three dangers already mentioned one might also hear the “heavenly voice cooing like a dove” and recounting the tragedy of the loss of The Temple – a haunting memory!

And so a people who had only recently lost such an important PLACE (The Temple) begin the Talmud with urgent questions of TIME.  Curious – don’t you think? Perhaps in Diaspora one could never hope to be free in a place but one could always attempt to be free in time … to use one’s mind and one’s heart to contemplate eternity and to figure out the time one must say the morning Sh’ma and the evening Sh’ma.

I will post this now to our blog and then read the comments of my dear chevruta …

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One Response to Two men (sic) walk into a …(3a-3b)

  1. neillitt says:

    I loved your post! It reflects a deep engagement and acceptance of the wonder and strangeness of the daf. One thought occurred to me: if the third watch was only the sound of a nursing baby it would be most challenging to hear. The sound of a nursing baby is softer than a whisper. But that is only a third of the sign: “people begin to rise, a baby nurses from its mother’s breast and a wife converses with her husband.” The world begins to stir, and for the first time in the Talmud, a wife’s voice is heard. Hello!

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